How do we break out of a years long separation limbo?
April 15, 2016 10:42 AM   Subscribe

Over five years ago I (male) decided to separate from my wife. We’ve been married for 16 years. The dam burst of emotion that fueled my decision to separate was spent before going all the way to divorce. She hasn’t divorced me either. Neither of us has dated anyone else. Things have simmered to an uneasy state of limbo, where we’re technically married, yet more like just friends and co-parents. How do you break out of an indecision so powerful that any choice feels like dying? Warning: tsunami of text inside!

We have a twelve year old daughter, who rarely asks when I’m going to move back in any more, and otherwise seems unaffected by this situation (though I’m sure that’s not true). She’s my primary focus in life, and her well-being has figured heavily into my decision making.

My wife and I both have successful careers, and we’ve accomplished a lot together. We’re both geeks and share similar tastes in many things. We make a fantastic team when it comes to having each other’s backs, overcoming the trials of daily life, and fulfilling our adult obligations. We’ve been through a lot together: the death of her mother, a move overseas, three miscarriages, and the birth and care of our daughter. Even though we live apart, I still visit regularly at the home we own together, in order to have more time with our daughter, and to help her with house upkeep.

We’ve tried three different couples’ counselors, and I’ve been in individual therapy for about three years total, starting at the moment of separation. The couples counseling wasn’t very productive, aside from helping with our communication. I’ve found individual therapy on the whole to be well worth it. My wife hasn’t done any individual therapy herself, apart from two sessions with the couples’ counselor. She says she’s dealt with her issues and doesn’t have time.

When we met she was recovering from the latest in a long string of sexual abuses by men. I had a terrible case of white knight syndrome, which I was completely oblivious to at the time. She wasn’t ready for a physical relationship, so we were “just friends” for a very long time before we were first intimate.

I was only able to admit to myself quite recently that my love language is touch. My parents are fundamental Christians, and I was raised with a great deal of shame and taboo. Touch is how I feel loved, on a very subconscious level that I don’t think I have much control over. My wife, also raised in a religious household, feels love from acts of service and gifts, both of which I’ve tried hard to provide. She’s not affectionate on the whole. Our physical relationship has consisted of, on one hand, quick kisses and occasional hugs, to sex on the other hand, with really nothing in between. She doesn’t like cuddling at all, or passionate kissing, or sexual touch outside the bedroom (even when we’re alone). When we were living together we had sex no more than twice a month, limited to two positions. She uses childish, made-up words for anatomy.

I’ve struggled a lot with this. I felt lonely, rejected, and unwanted. I never really felt like she loved me for me, because of the lack of affection, and because she hasn’t been able to express what it is about me that makes me special. I have this feeling I can’t shake that the things she values about me are things almost any decent man could provide. I know that as mature human beings we should seek validation from within, and not from anyone else, but I find it hard not to want someone who wants me for the ways I’m unique. I would routinely tell her how great she is at certain things, and how lucky I am to be with someone like her. I would sometimes tell her that I wished she loved me for who I am. She says she does, but she can’t explain why other than I’m her “best friend”.

I tended to harbor a lot of guilt, over a lot of things. I’m a recovering people pleaser, with poor boundaries, and a tendency to slip into codependent behavior. Through therapy, I’ve been working on all of these. I had a lot of trouble articulating my needs, for many reasons. I wasn’t even willing to admit I had such needs, because of my religious upbringing. I didn’t want her to feel pressured to be physical with me, because of her history of abuse. I didn’t want her to associate me with those men, or to be thought of as a man obsessed with sex. I began to view my needs as not needs at all, but superficial, base tendencies that should be avoided in order to keep strife out of our relationship.

I couldn’t stand the repeated nights of lying in bed, feeling lonely and rejected after she rolled away from me, yet inches away from the one I loved. So we began to talk, and I got better about telling her what I need to feel loved. Things improved, but it felt more like thinly veiled tolerance on her part than enthusiasm. She told me about her married friends who don’t have any sex, and shouldn’t I be grateful that we have it at all? She told me that I should act my age, and not like a horny teenager. I told her it wasn’t about sex, and more affection. I just wanted her to cuddle with me, and for her to initiate. I just wanted her to want me. I don’t think she really believed me, because she kept insisting that all I wanted was sex. She interpreted everything I did as a sexual advance. That made me feel like the only way to make her believe me was to give up sex and touch entirely.

On top of all this, my self-esteem was being further worn down by her controlling behaviors. She has a type A personality. She’s also a people pleaser, and her self-worth very much revolves around fulfilling responsibilities to others, being right as much as possible, obeying rules, and being perceived as a good person.

We ended up in a place where I felt I was just an extension of her will. I was often criticized for not doing things the “right way”. She also took to slowly explaining things to me to make sure I’d do them right. This might be a nice thing to do if it weren’t constant, and if I felt like she let me make my own mistakes. I felt like she didn’t trust me, like I was a child to her, like my individuality was being swallowed by her personality, and like I was a failure. Now this also goes back to my childhood, as my father was also very critical, and was the origin of my avoidant behaviors and low self-worth. We marry our parents, right?!

Sometimes there’s momentum to get back together. She says she loves me and wants me back, and she’s waiting for me to change my mind. She says she was always happy with me. Sometimes I believe her, and sometimes I think she mostly just values me for the security I provide. But I love her too, and I think I always will - though it’s mostly a familial love born of shared history and comfort. I’ve moved back in for a few months, then moved back out. I feel so strongly attracted to her at times, and at others I feel nothing.

We’ve had sex a few times over the last few years. The last time that happened I felt strangely repulsed, and this shocked me so much I didn’t even know how to begin processing it (hint: with a professional, and no I’m not gay).

Maybe it’s because living by myself and getting therapy has changed me. I’ve scraped together more self-worth than I’ve ever had. I’ve also come to terms with the fact that I’m a sexual being, and I still, maybe stupidly, believe that I’ll someday be with someone who appreciates me for that. What’s more, I finally “came out” as atheist to my religious parents recently, which was a huge deal.

Oddly I feel great about my life, while simultaneously feeling like it’s a complete train wreck.

I don’t know how to start wanting her again. I love her, but I think we’ve always worked better as friends. There’s so much pain there – I don’t know if I have it in me to live through more of her rejections, even if I know I should work to not take those personally. So far she seems to think this my battle, rather than one she needs to fight at my side. She wants me to make a decision. She’s threatened a few times to leave me, but she hasn’t. I’m pretty sure it would anathema for her to be thought of as the “bad guy”, and because of that she’s also caught up in the limbo game.

But I’m deathly afraid of divorce. It was literally a dirty word growing up – we couldn’t say it at home. I keep meaning to see a lawyer, just to know where I stand, but I always make excuses not to. My parents are still together, mostly out of stubbornness and a sense of duty, and they deeply disapprove of the separation. I worry about our daughter, about the effect this is having on her. Will she hate me if I betray her and her mother by divorcing “for real”? I’d like to be with somebody, I really would. But if it’s not our daughter’s mother, will she hate them AND me? Would it be a mistake anyway? My wife and I work so well as friends and partners. Is that enough? Maybe mid-forties is too late for all this upheaval anyway. It would be so easy just to move in with her and our daughter again and treat the last five years like a bad dream.

How have you broken out of limbo? How can I force myself to make a decision? Thank you so much for reading all this!
posted by star fruit to Human Relations (22 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

It sounds like you'd be much better co-parents if you stopped trying to make your clearly unworkable sexual and romantic relationship work.

You talk a lot about how your parents' repression is affecting you even now, in your 40s. Your daughter is watching the two of you - is this what you want her to think marriage is?
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:52 AM on April 15, 2016 [32 favorites]

What kind of a life would you want for your daughter, if she were in your situation?
To experience a sexless marriage where she feels she will never be touched and held in the way that she wants? Or a divorce and to find a partner that provides both companionship and passion?

Do that.
posted by warriorqueen at 10:57 AM on April 15, 2016 [9 favorites]

You two can be married and live separately if you want. But if there's nothing about staying married that offers any additional benefit (financial, logistics) then just get the divorce. A romantic, sexual relationship is not going to happen for you two. It's not going to be the kind that you want. Every partner will have different wants, desires and needs. Yours aren't better or more special or more "weird" than hers. I say this because you need to move forward with your romantic life elsewhere and I don't want you to have expectations that any one partner can be everything and all things to you. But I have a feeling that you can find someone more compatible.

Just work through the motions of contacting a lawyer. Don't overthink it, just do it. There's a whole process involved. You don't call a lawyer and then you're suddenly divorced tomorrow. While I'm sure many, many people would love it if that were the case, you have plenty of time to freak out while also putting the process in motion. One step in front of the other.

It's so, so hard to get the voices of our parents out of our heads. But, really, think about it this way.... Are your parents having sex with your wife? Are they in the bedroom with you? Are you parents falling in and out of love with your significant other? Are they parenting your child? Are they there in the room with you as you struggle to make sense of your life? No. They are not. Not even a little. So put them out and do what is best for you and your family.
posted by amanda at 10:59 AM on April 15, 2016 [5 favorites]

Getting down to the central question about divorce and initiative on tough decisions, I'll speak to you through my experience with my partner who was you when I met him.

My partner (male) had been married (to a woman) for 22 years when I met him. Sex didn't figure greatly in their relationship, but they did have three kids together. My partner had an experience/epiphany about halfway through their marriage that confirmed he was, in fact, sexually attracted to men much more than to women. He didn't bring this up with his wife for another decade, when I (a man) met him. He came out, we all came together and met, and our worlds merged over years into a happy, weird, distributed family.

But they didn't divorce for five years. My partner moved out from the house he owns with his ex almost immediately after he came out, but the divorce process largely stayed a nebulous discussion for a very long time. And as the new partner, let me tell you that that was an unpleasant thing to be aware of for five years. What finally made it an issue was that my partner and I bought a house, and explaining things to people giving us home loans was difficult (to say the least). So they finally wrapped up the divorce, we bought a house, and things moved on. Things improved, I should say, as they moved on. And, by the way, the kids are fine. Kids usually are. Divorce is not a mystical sin anymore, and our kids know far more children with divorced parents (or non-traditional families in general) than they do children with married parents. Concern for children isn't the best reason for a marriage contract that is void in all senses but the legal one, is it? It can feel like it's sending mixed messages about what marriage, can be, or has to be.

If getting a divorce is something you want to do, then, yes, it's weird and uncomfortable, just as it's freeing in literal and figurative ways. If you're looking for motivation, then think of the person you'd like to meet who loves you for who you are. Think of their feelings, and how they would like to meet you. Would you want to meet this person as a separated-but-married man crippled with anxiety about divorcing a spouse with whom little intimacy has ever been shared? Or would you want to meet this person as a divorced man who exited an unfulfilling relationship after much effort to find fulfillment in it?

And, too, I do know more than a few people who live in seemingly permanent, stable states of separation. If the shoe fits, you don't have to compel yourself to divorce because it's an option. It's an option. It's just an option. Maybe think about it again when you have a reason to, like you want to buy a house or some other asset that you'd want to protect. Or you meet someone who likes who you are.

Be well.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 11:06 AM on April 15, 2016 [12 favorites]

Hey this is sort of what my parents did. They split up when I was 11 and stayed married for mulble-mumble reasons including my dad feeling like he was a failure if they divorced and my mom needing health insurance and being unwilling or unable to get a full time job because she was "left" with us kids. My dad pursued other relationships. My mom mostly didn't. No one thought they would reconcile but they also weren't really co-parenting exactly.My dad supported us how much he felt like which was sometimes a lot and sometimes not as much. My mom became unbelievably bitter (mostly to us kids and managed to mostly work things into a stable stalemate with my dad). My dad was often confused about what she wanted in his own no-agency way.

They stayed married literally until my mom decided "This is stupid" and started divorce proceedings when I was in my 20's or 30's and it started a lot of shit up between them that should have been over decades earlier. I grew up having no real idea what a loving adult relationship looks like because my parents were squirrely weirdos and also didn't have a lot of friends and we grew up rurally. I don't recommend it.

You and your wife both deserve better. Maintaining this barely polite fiction because of some abstract emotions you have concerning divorce is not a path leading to happiness. I am sorry about your relationship but it seems over to me.
posted by jessamyn at 11:08 AM on April 15, 2016 [26 favorites]

You and your wife both deserve better.

THIS, a million times this. You deserve to have your needs met. You deserve love that feels like love to you. You deserve to feel like you're Living your life before it's over instead of being stuck in limbo. Everyone deserves that, right?

This isn't a dress rehearsal life. You don't get to stick around in limbo never getting your needs met just because you want to keep your parents, or your wife, or WHOEVER happy, and then do it over again later. You have to live your life while you can, and save the only life you can: your own. Model being an adult for your daughter by taking charge of your own life and getting that divorce while still being kind and awesome to her and her mother.

And keep up the therapy - it's clear that it's done a tremendous amount to get you to this better place. Keep heading for the better places!
posted by ldthomps at 11:29 AM on April 15, 2016 [13 favorites]

You can keep living the way you are if you're generally content. Our culture is fixated on the idea that the high-expectations, high-involvement marriage is the only type of relationship worth being in, but that's a standard that is unachievable for a great many people who would feel satisfied with other types of relationship arrangements that are not quite as prescriptive.

If you do get divorced and start dating again, I suggest you keep up your personal therapy because I don't think you're quite there yet in terms of being a healthy non-co-dependent partner to someone. The way you talk about your wife (that she's controlling, wants to always be right, needs others to obey her) isn't just an impermeable part of her personality, it also stems from the interaction between the two of you and is dependent on what you're bringing the the relationship that is dysfunctional. Your dysfunction seems to include a great deal of passivity which translates into you allowing her to make all of the decisions, only to quietly grow more resentful that you aren't given a voice on equal standing to hers.

It's not her job to give you a voice. When you've truly shed yourself of your passivity you'll be able to ask for the things you want without it even feeling like you're "standing up for yourself", it will just seem like a totally normal way to be.

On to the sex stuff. When you have (or had) sex did you make sure she orgasmed every single time (or whatever the pleasure equivalent of orgasming would be if that's not her thing)? I mean Every. Single. Time. Because it's somewhat common for men to describe their love language as touch and not understand why their wives don't want to engage in physically pleasurable activities, while not really concerning themselves with whether it actually IS pleasurable for them. They just assume it must be super pleasurable, because hey, they're getting off so she must be experiencing the same level of enjoyment. Not so. If her pleasure isn't just as important to you as your own (or if you went through a long stretch sometime in the past where her sexual pleasure was devalued) then that is your answer as to why she doesn't care about sex as much as you do. Work to make it much more pleasurable for her and she'll likely want to engage with you more in that way. If you don't plan to have sex with your wife again, than this is something you need to be very aware of in your next relationship. You seem to assume that if you just find a high libido woman, all of your sex problems will be solved, but even women with the highest of libidos will abstain from sexual contact if it's not pleasurable to them.

I hope this does not come off as harsh. I'm a big believer that you can only control yourself and your own actions. With that in mind I think you need to focus more on yourself and how you can be a better partner (to your wife or someone else) and less on how your wife is currently failing you in so very many ways. If after you really try to make things better, you still feel the same, then strongly consider divorce or work to get to a place of acceptance that your current arrangement is a completely okay way to live if it means you're both generally content.
posted by scantee at 11:29 AM on April 15, 2016 [10 favorites]

How do you break out of an indecision so powerful that any choice feels like dying?

By recognizing that you cannot avoid pain in this situation, and you will not actually die of it. But you have the choice of ongoing pain forever, or some pain for some time followed by potential improvement.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 11:30 AM on April 15, 2016 [18 favorites]

It's not supposed to be this complicated. It's time to move forward into a rewarding and productive coparenting relationship (and maybe even friendship) and stop beating the dead horse of a marriage relationship that doesn't exist and hasn't for a long time.

You know what's hard as fuck on kids? Ambiguity. Living on eggshells is catastrophically bad for developing minds and bodies, far far worse than a non-acrimonious divorce. You two adults need to step up.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:31 AM on April 15, 2016 [10 favorites]

So, I got back together with an ex at one point, and that's the person I'm still with, and I think we're doing just fine. There are exceptions to the idea that you should never, ever, ever, ever get back together. But... there's also a sunk cost fallacy that comes into these things. You can't get the time back. You can't change what already happened. You can't un-break the teacup. You moved out; the decision isn't really "should you get a divorce" but "should you enter into a relationship with this person, knowing everything you know". And with everything you've said... why would you?

Just for comparison purposes, the SO and I are not compatible in every possible way, but after a no-contact period? When we started talking again it was only a couple months before we were BFFs and making noises about how we could totally still be completely platonic roommates and not that we're getting back together but we sign out every night with heart emoji and obviously that means nothing because everybody knows you don't get back together with your exes. Which led at some point, well past the time when it was all totally ridiculous, to a conversation about how we totally suck at not being a thing so we might as well work out how to be a thing. Nobody had to be talked into the notion. Even if I knew it wasn't going to work out by five years from now, even knowing everything I know about her and how we are together, I'd have chosen this, every time.

No offense, but you don't seem to feel that way about this woman. And your kid's going to be fine. Set her the example now that not all relationships end with Happily Ever After, but that your life isn't over when that happens. That grief is not fatal, that you don't need to have your whole life neatly put together by age 25 and then have it never change ever again. You and she can both learn about resilience at the same time.
posted by Sequence at 11:36 AM on April 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

There's a reason limbo is one of the outer rings of hell in Dante's Inferno. It sounds like you have a lot of baggage from your conservative upbringing. That sounds tough. I hope you're working on that in therapy? Have you specifically talked with your therapist about your feelings around divorce?

You might consider what your daughter is learning about adult relationships from this situation. Kids pick up on a lot. She's still young enough that a change in direction for you (i.e. divorce and moving on) could be a positive example. What do you think she's learning right now about love, affection and adult relationships?

A divorce sounds like the healthiest choice for everyone involved. If making that first appointment with a lawyer is too hard to do, is there a friend you can ask to help you do it? After the divorce, you'll be free (ethically and morally) to pursue other relationships. I imagine you'll need some time to heal first. That's okay. You could eventually have a relationship with someone whose love language is also touch! Take a moment to imagine how amazing that could be. Then call a lawyer.
posted by purple_bird at 11:37 AM on April 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

But I’m deathly afraid of divorce. It was literally a dirty word growing up – we couldn’t say it at home. I keep meaning to see a lawyer, just to know where I stand, but I always make excuses not to. My parents are still together, mostly out of stubbornness and a sense of duty, and they deeply disapprove of the separation.

The alternative to unhappily-together people divorcing is continuing to be unhappy - either in a limbo of never-to-be-met expectations, or resignation to unhappiness. It's the saddest thing in the world to me, to see an older couple barely tolerating each other, just because (effectively) they're used to each other and can't imagine another way of living. Beyond any kind of value system, that's just physiological stress. I think it's unnecessary (values in again). It's like tolerating a bad job. When you leave, you're thinking, how is it I didn't do this sooner? Why did I suffer for so long? There are possibilities beyond what you imagine and fear right now.

I mean, how do your parents live? How do they feel? Do you want that kind of life? Yours can be different.

You don't have to continue to feel unloved and rejected and shamed for wanting loving touch. You don't. You can at least be freed of that pain, and maybe you can meet someone who's equipped to give you the kind of comfort you need.

I worry about our daughter, about the effect this is having on her.

It's much more awful for a kid to see pain and rejection modelled than to see their parents single. Kids adapt. They need a peaceful environment, and a decently positive atmosphere at home(s), and stability, security, and predictability much more than they need one or more anxious and unhappy parents living in the same place. Your current unhappiness is registering, one way or another.

Will she hate me if I betray her and her mother by divorcing “for real”?

Not if you continue to love and support her, give her your time and attention, and behave respectfully towards her mom. (Odds are.)

I’d like to be with somebody, I really would. But if it’s not our daughter’s mother, will she hate them AND me?

Blended families can be difficult to negotiate, but not impossible. Lots of ways to do it. Putting the cart before the horse, here.

Would it be a mistake anyway? My wife and I work so well as friends and partners. Is that enough?

That's for you to answer. Sounds like not. Sounds like you're hurt by this arrangement and sounds like that's unlikely to stop.

Maybe mid-forties is too late for all this upheaval anyway.

Nope. Not at all. You still (sounds like?) have resources or the potential for resources to facilitate changes relatively easily (youth, theoretical earning years).
posted by cotton dress sock at 12:15 PM on April 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

I grew up with unaffectionate parents (who are still married, btw). At one point, in family therapy, I irritably said, "I wish you two would fucking get married or get divorced, but pick one. Goddammit." I was a lovely 13 year-old. So my model for a relationship was two people who lived in the same house but did nothing together, never touched or said kind words to each other, slept in separate rooms, and would give each other the finger over Thanksgiving dinner. Today I am almost 41, single, can't stand physical intimacy, am wholly cold and unaffectionate, and can look back on a single long-term relationship that looked identical to my parents' relationship in every way. It doesn't take much to draw a line from my childhood experiences to my adult behaviors. I could probably fix a lot of these things with a metric ton of effort, but I'm too old and depressed to be bothered.

Get divorced. You, your wife, and your daughter deserve better.
posted by xyzzy at 12:21 PM on April 15, 2016 [4 favorites]

I don’t know how to start wanting her again. I love her, but I think we’ve always worked better as friends. There’s so much pain there – I don’t know if I have it in me to live through more of her rejections

Are you in limbo? It kind of sounds like you've made a decision. But, if that's not good enough, try a pro/con list for staying with your wife. I find these usually work. Even if the "pro" list is longer than the cons, if you are resisting it, that means that you've made a decision.
posted by serenity_now at 12:22 PM on April 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

Some of what you are saying reminds me of the person I dated last year. He felt very strongly about needing to be touched and would frame it to me in a way that amounted to: touch me or you are rejecting me. I told him I needed a little more room for discussion than that. I have no history of trauma like you wife, I simply have a history of being a teenage girl where touch was often forced on me. A man demanding touch (or I will hurt him emotionally) makes me deeply uncomfortable and kills my desire for anything more physical.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 12:34 PM on April 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

You have three basic choices, a) try to breathe life into the sexless, touchless relationship, b) stay as you are, and (c) move toward divorce, either slowly or rapidly. I personally think (a) is terrible as you sound unhappy. At this point, based on what you tell me, I don't think your wife is ever going to be enthusiastic even about exchanging hugs. I perceive that you are feeling a lot of shame about wanting physical affection. I hope your therapy helps with this, but in some cases it can be agonizingly difficult to talk about.

I recommend option (c), but I can understand you might want to move slowly if you think your wife is going to do a lot of complaining or (worse) make it difficult for you to spend time with your daughter. I don't want you to be punished for choosing to depart from the marriage. (I don't care so much about the opinion of your parents. I shrug my shoulders at them.)

My parents got divorced when I was 9 and about 5 years later my dad was dating my stepmother. I did dislike her quite a bit at first, but mostly because she was not like my mother and I didn't like my dad rejecting my mother. As an adult, I do understand that my dad and mom were incompatible and that breaking up led them both to happier relationships.

Some of the books that have been written about controlling and abusive spouses may be helpful for you, even if your wife was only controlling and not abusive. The cyclical pattern of soothing complaints just a little and not ever solving problems creates a difficult emotional dynamic that is hard to break out of.
posted by puddledork at 12:37 PM on April 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

Unlike you and your wife, the only thing my parents have in common is that they enjoy sex with each other... but are completely incompatible in any other way. Growing up, this was massively confusing to me and put this additional importance on sexual compatibility in relationships and a belief that sex = love = suffering/martyrdom that I'm still dealing with as an adult. (And I know understand that they were modeling their own parents in some ways, but to be totally honest, it doesn't make me feel any better.)

I'm not saying that I know better than anybody else whether you should divorce or not. I'm just suggesting that kids not only want, but need their parents to model healthy, happy interpersonal relationships. If you can't do that with your wife, please don't pretend for your child. She'll figure it out eventually, and it probably won't be pretty.
posted by sm1tten at 4:56 PM on April 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

Lots of good points above, so the only thing I'm going to add is that at 12 years old your daughter is not an idiot. She knows what marriage looks like, and this is not it. I would bet you dimes to dollars that she explains to her friends that you guys are already divorced.
posted by drlith at 7:07 PM on April 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

Buddhism says that every human does only two things, seek happiness and try to avoid pain. Often in our attempt to be happy and avoid pain we bring on more unhappiness and pain maybe that's why you are reluctant to divorce. You are working to become free of your past,facing pain, your wife helps you do this by doing her "things", to which you ascribe meaning. When you stop giving meaning to her actions,( she does x and that means...) you will have done a lot of healing (and that goes for her too) Explaining to your daughter that the truth is that you both had difficult upbringings which means...whatever it means to you, ie being together, intimacy is hard for you both and you need help to sort that out (introducing the idea that therapy is good not shameful), but you love each other and sometimes that means being confused and not knowing what to do, and love/life is very complicated and that's all ok, she is safe and loved by you both. Truth? Deepening your relationship with your daughter with honesty. And life is limbo, an uncertain situation that you cannot control, the sooner she is aware of that the more free she will be. Ask her if she has any questions, reassure her regularly that she is loved and act on your words.
posted by RelaxingOne at 9:09 PM on April 15, 2016

Maybe mid-forties is too late for all this upheaval anyway. It would be so easy just to move in with her and our daughter again and treat the last five years like a bad dream.

It's never to late to be happy. And I am speaking as someone who went through the break up of a 22 year relationship including a long (long long) drawn out separation and divorce negotiation.

My break up and divorce was long and drawn out, but once it became official, I didn't sit my kid down and say "you're now officially from a broken home!". From the kids perspective it's all the same and the paperwork doesn't matter.

(funny story, neither my ex or i knew we were divorced until months after it was official because the damn paperwork does not say "congrats you are no longer married" it says "judgement of dissolution" and things about liens so I had no idea that was my official decree.)
posted by vespabelle at 10:11 PM on April 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

If this was a Dan Savage column, I think Dan would say find someone you want to have sex with and get done with this, why waste your life trying to make your wife into someone she's never going to be? Or, why not have an open marriage, stay married and find someone you want to be with. It also sounds like you are having trouble finding your strength and are constantly getting rolled by someone with domineering traits. I recommend finding some practice or training that helps you find your power so you can better defend your boundaries and push back on people (psychologically), like your wife, who are pushy or controlling. Maybe your sex life would improve if you did, stranger things have happened.
posted by diode at 10:47 PM on April 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

You mention sexual trauma once. I think that's a mistake. It is difficult for me to articulate but while I know my partner's love language is touch, sexual touch outside of sexual situations is viscerally unpleasant for me. Not just about privacy, but viscerally unpleasant and awful. Yet every so often it happens and we get to go through another few months where I am doing all this internal work to 'get over' my trauma, which is almost invisible from the outside. Which absolutely looks like me being unable to understand affection in a non-sexual context. That's because what I thought was a safe space for affection became sexual without my intent. It is hard to deal with but I just wanted to highlight that aspect as being much more important than you seem to give space to.
posted by geek anachronism at 11:37 PM on April 15, 2016 [7 favorites]

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